Nova Scotia

Halifax council approves plan to pay transit fares with smartphones

Halifax regional council approved a new plan Tuesday that will begin by allowing Halifax Transit bus and ferry riders to pay their fares using a smartphone app, but it's unclear when the plan will roll out.

Goal is to go cashless by 2025, but some councillors raise concerns about accessibility

The proposal presented to council on Tuesday looked at four possibilities to pay, including a mobile app. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax regional council approved a new plan Tuesday that will begin by allowing Halifax Transit bus and ferry riders to pay their fares using a smartphone app, but it's unclear when the plan will roll out.

The proposal looked at four possibilities to pay: reloadable plastic cards, limited-use smart cards that come with a desginated amount of rides, a mobile app, and tapping credit or debit cards.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the proposal.

Halifax Transit already scrapped a plan to use extra-large tickets, which would have required new fare boxes and come with a hefty price tag.

The first phase will be what Marc Santilli, manager of technical services for Halifax Transit, calls "visual validation."

The first phase of the new plan will use a mobile app to show the driver you've paid your transit fare. (Robert Short/CBC)

The user will purchase a ticket or pass on the app. When they want to use it, they will activate it and display it on the screen and show the driver, the same way they would a paper transfer.

Santilli said there will be various features included to keep people from "gaming the system."

Most apps need to be connected to a data plan or Wi-Fi to purchase the tickets, but once they're purchased they can be activated without data, Santilli said.

The second phase will see new fare boxes installed to automate mobile ticket validation.

Phase three will be a reloadable smart card or limited-use ones, with the eventual move to a tap-to-pay system using just a credit or debit card.

"To me, [that's] the Holy Grail … that's kind of where we want to get to," said Coun. Waye Mason.

Cash-free by 2025

The goal is to have a completely cashless fare payment system by 2025. But some councillors expressed reservations.

"Cashless concerns me," said Coun. Paul Russell. "There are a number of populations that we will leave out once we go to a cashless model."

"[Some people] don't have a smartphone, they might not have a credit card, they might not have a bank card," Coun. Sam Austin said. "What does accessibility look like in a cash-free system?"

Santilli said the details of how they'll go cashless haven't been worked out yet, but current payment methods, like monthly passes and tickets, will continue for now.

A timeline has not yet been established for expanding beyond phase one, and it's unclear when phase one will roll out.

But Santilli said once they explore different options from app vendors, phase one should be implemented fairly quickly because there's no need to purchase and install new hardware like scanners or fare boxes.

With files from Pam Berman

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